Seven years ago, director Bong Joon Ho first brought us Snowpiercer . The film was based on the French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige." It was Bong's English-language debut, and many Americans' first introduction to the man behind Parasite's genius. Now, we find ourselves with a new adaption — one with which Bong Joon Ho remains involved an executive producer.
At its core, the plot remains the same as the film and the graphic novel. The voice of Daveed Diggs (among his many roles, of course, is his Tony- and Grammy-winning performances in Hamilton ) hums to life as the episode begins. He tells of the weather changes, and of the deniers who doomed humanity with their lies. Some actively made the world hotter with their actions. Scientists attempted to save the dying planet by reversing the process, but instead froze the planet to its core.
In response to Earth's latest ice age, the mysterious Mr. Wilford creates a train to remain in constant motion to combat the -119.6 degrees Celsius (that's -183.28 degrees Fahrenheit) temperatures outside. The revolutionary train has its own ecosystem and is able to remain completely self-sustained throughout its voyage. The catch? The train was created for the rich — many of whom are directly responsible for the sickness of the planet.
Some "lower-class" citizens rise up and try to board the train right before it departs. We watch many of them die as they desperately try to save their own lives before freezing to death. They're met with no empathy, with women and children being mowed down indiscriminately as the guards try to ensure a safe takeoff for their "esteemed" guests. However, a small group of them do manage to board the Snowpiercer.
We join those who survived six years later. I don't want to be too on the nose here, but, well, their cab'net's fractured into factions and their poorest citizens live ration to ration. I will do my best to not throw in a Hamilton reference every review, but I make no promises. Anyway! The Tailies (the poor citizens who hijacked the end of the Snowpiercer) seem to be mostly led by Andre Layton (Diggs). Layton believes that they have to be methodical in their revolution. Others seem to prefer Pike's (Steven Ogg) more direct approach of rising up now. With their rations continuing to be halved by those in control in the upper cars, more and more come over to Pike's way of thinking.
Layton eventually agrees that there can be no revolution if all of their people starve to death, but a wrench is thrown into the Tailies' plan before it can begin. Layton is collected by the train's enforcers at the behest of Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly). Cavill is in charge of the hospitality on Snowpiercer, and appears to be Mr. Wilton's right hand woman — and she's got a problem. There's been a murder on the train, and it's happened before. We quickly learn that Layton used to be a homicide detective, and for the first time since hopping the train he finds himself with leverage.
We won't dive much deeper into the plot of "First, the Weather Changed," because there are a lot of fun surprises that I hope you enjoy as much as I did. From a story perspective, this first episode does absolutely everything that a pilot is supposed to do. You as the viewer know precisely what situation our protagonists find themselves in. You have a decent idea of the challenges they're going to be facing in future episodes. A solid mystery is introduced. Some character relationships are clearly established, while others plant seeds for future drama. And you leave with enough questions to keep you engaged. The end of the episode even delivers a fun surprise that typically would be dragged out until somewhere in the mid-season finale territory.
Snowpiercer's first episode doesn't just succeed from technical and story perspectives, either. There are a couple of really pleasing musical cues that one might not expect in a series such as this one. Some beautiful devastation is played a la Rachmaninoff later in the episode, while early on the stomps of a revolution are put in tune with a beautiful Spanish song. It's gorgeous in a kind of agony in an end of days sort of way.
Meanwhile, the performances are stunning. May you someday look at anything the way Diggs looks at a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese. The sheer reverence in his eyes immediately portrays just how starving the Tailies are. Connelly is chilling as Melanie, perfectly balancing cold calculation, hospitality, and a weird kind of humanity. The Tailies are all appropriately desperate. The upper-class cars are appropriately insufferable. Everything looks and feels exactly as it should.
The series' next cunning trick is immediately expanding the story to include a narrative that we haven't seen in the film or graphic novel. The murder mystery angle gives even the most devoted of Snowpiercer fans something to look forward to every week. However, unlike some other adaptations, this expansion on the story doesn't take away from the underlying narrative of the plot.
I was absolutely dazzled by this pilot. With things being as dire as they are in reality at this exact moment, it may not be for everyone. But, if you find that you can stomach a story about a post-apocalyptic class war right now, this is the one to watch. There's a lot that hits home, but it does so in a very relatable and human way that keeps things compelling.
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